6 Feb 2010

Dr Paul Connett: no case for incinerator in Gloucestershire

On Thursday night I got to Kings Stanley Village Hall for an evening of serious entertainment and information. Dr Paul Connett (pictured left) who lives in the US but is currently on a lecture tour in Italy was grabbed for this evenings meeting. Indeed he was just over after opening a new waste facility in Italy and earlier in January he spoke about Zero Waste to the Division for Sustainable Development - apparently his most exciting day ever because it felt like he was getting through to policy-makers.

Anyway I'm rambling on - it was a bit of a coup for the waste campaign groups to get Paul here - campaigner Sue Oppenheimer opened the meeting and editor of Glos Media, Ian Mean introduced Paul Connett (see picture below of Sue and Ian) - promising an 95 minutes of talk and no one falling asleep - well infact we got quite a bit more of talk and the meeting ran on well over 9.30 until after 10 with questions at the end. I doubt anyone fell asleep except perhaps 8 year old Little Miss Green (see more below)!

Paul's energy, passion and enthusiasm were something to behold but equally it was matched with science and argument - there was lots to learn although the whole thrust and arguments are well familiar to Greens - indeed it read a lot like a Green party manifesto. No that's unfair - most of our manifestos are pretty pretty dry, this was not - this was alive and just how we need to get the message out there to all parties and folk.

Well I was about to start writing about the talk itself then checked out the My Zero Waste site - although I've conversed with these folk and written a piece about waste on their site I hadn't met them - well they'd seen the talk advertised on my blog and I recognised them from photos. It was great to meet them as they are, like Paul, more than passionate about waste - their website is well worth a regular visit. Indeed they have a great new project with crisp packets - see it here.

Anyway they have already written up a great piece here is their bit below from their blog on 'My Zero Waste' taken from their excellent website - please only read on if you promise to visit their site as I've not asked them if I can use it! I finish with some additional comments on the evening from me and there are also some photos I took during the evening. It is also worth noting Paul's website - American Health Studies has some excellent videos and some of his powerpoint presentations - apparently this evenings one may well be available on that site in a week.

I’ve just got back from an excellent talk by Dr Paul Connett, Professor of Chemistry, St Lawrence University, New York.

Dr Connett has researched waste management issues for over 14 years and is a world leading expert in incineration. He has given over 2000 talks in 52 countries with the aim of bringing clarity to the issue of incineration and sustainability.

The meeting was hosted by Ian Mean, Editor of our local paper “The Citizen” who opened the meeting by saying that waste was one of the two biggest issues we currently face in Gloucestershire. The meeting was organised by supported of four local campaign groups - Glosain, Glosvain, SWARD and Gloucestershire Friends of the Earth.

Incineration: A poor solution

Dr Connett’s opening line was “Incineration: A poor solution for the twenty first century” and I knew we’re in for a riveting 1 1/4 hours.

One and a quarter hours is a long time to talk, and an even longer time to listen, but this flew by and before we knew it, people were queuing up to shake his hand, ask questions and Little Miss green had her head resting on my lap for sleep.

Paul covered the arguments against incineration, told us why gasification (and other technologies) were not the answer and covered the zero waste strategy solution.


The talk was compelling; not one to dwell on the negative, the thrust was to focus on the solution - a call to action for a zero waste future. The message bought to us was that what we do as individuals has an impact on the world. Paul pointed out that during the 20th century, the focus was on waste management and how to get rid of waste efficiently and with minimal damage to our health and the environment. The 21st century focus needs to be on RESOURCE management and sustainability for future generations.

Consumption is key

The real problem, as Paul sees it, is fighting everyone’s over consumption. By the time a child is 16, they have watched 350,000 TV adverts; all telling them they can be sexy, intelligent, popular and happy if they buy x,y, and z. He pointed out that Development is measured by how quickly we can extract, produce, consume and waste something. See Annie Leonard’s “The story of stuff” below for a dynamic 20 minute talk on this.

Incinerators still need landfill!

Incinerators don’t challenge our consumption and they sabotage genuine moves towards sustainability. Incinerators also stifle innovation because you have to feed it. The shocking statistic I wasn’t fully aware of was that for every 4 tonnes of stuff you burn in an incinerator, you still have to LANDFILL 1 tonne of toxic ash.

Dioxins and toxins

We were then told about dioxins, and all the other toxins given off by incinerators such as mercury, cadmium, lead and arsenic and shown that dioxins accumulate in animal fat. This means you don’t even need to be living near an incinerator to suffer some of the negative effects. You simply need to eat the animals that have been grazing on nearby land to ingest dioxins. Once you get these dioxins in your system you can’t get rid of them; except for women, who can get rid of them by having a baby. Apparently any dioxins stored in your fat goes into your baby when you get pregnant.

Zero waste solutions

After all the facts about why we should avoid incineration, the rest of the talk was on the solution - the zero waste model. Comprising of things you would expect such as kerbside collections, home composting, recycling, reusing, repairing and moving into other lesser thought of areas such as de-constructing, economic incentives, waste reduction initiatives and better industrial design, Paul showed us how a zero waste future was possible.

He talked about many inspiring communities all across the world in Nova Scotia, Japan, Spain, California and Italy who were virtually sending zero to landfill and incinerating nothing. Areas where recycling programmes were in place, community composting was commonplace, refills were the norm and new parents were given free reusable nappies! To see some of these inspiring stories visit the American Environmental Health Studies videos page.

Quality of life

The message we were left with was that we had to teach the future generations how to separate their quality of life from material consumption; reiterating that if we continued as we are living now we would need another 2 - 4 planets to sustain us. He also optimistically told us that a threatened community is a strengthened one if people work together. He reminded us that change begins with every person talking to their friends and neighbours.

Spread the message

I hope you all feel great about that, because I know many of you talk to your friends and colleagues and you must keep doing that - you have no idea how far those ripples will spread in time.

At the end of the talk, Ian Mean called Dr Connett’s talk “Inspirational” He said “We really know why the UN wants him back and what I got was that we can all do something.”

Now go and visit My Zero Waste - this post by My Zero Waste was here and finished with a short film about what you can do re waste - but there is plenty more to explore...

Those sticking around for now... here's some more about the evening...amongst the 100 plus guests there were 4 Stroud District councillors there, myself and John Marjoram, Dennis A from Lib Dems and Labour's Ken Stevens was there for a chunck of time. A handful of other councillors from other areas present but sadly not many visible Tories - a real shame as it is just what you need to hear - especially if you have been having hours of discussions with incinerator companies that tell you how wonderful they are...it was particularly good to hear about all the possible solutions - many of which we are already working on (see screen shot above).

Anyway to some more discussion....

I had thought the whole talk was about this aspect as Paul is well known in this area of research - and I have to say I've had some reservations about this issue - there are many excellent good reasons why not to have an incinerator without needing to even look at this issue - see here my comments about incinerators. In fact I just got sent this comment that I respect alot from someone who has looked at this in some detail..."My personal view on the particulates, the PM2.5's, etc, which is "particulates, 2.5 micron or less", is that yes, there are some there, invisible to the eye, and yes, they can lodge deep in the lungs, BUT every diesel lorry and diesel train that passes produces similar, or potentially MORE damaging particulates healthwise. In oher words, I do not accept that vehicular particulates are less dangerous."

Taking into account this it could be argued that thermal treatment, gasification - not mass burn incineration, of the output from an MBT plant should be considered. By definition, this material has had all recyclates that can be practicably removed taken out, it is good for nothing. So the last ounce of value is the energy released by thermal treatment...others would argue landfill is the answer for this? It was certainly interesting the quotes Paul had about gassification and how there is more uncertainty than perhaps we have been led to believe - see screen shot of letter from Lurgi re gassification.

I have looked more closely at some of what has been written and I do think we should have very real concerns about nanoparticles....it is clear we need more research into this area. The precautionary principle means therefore that we should not add to existing problems with an incinerator - but landfill has it's own problems......I'd be interested to hear more on this issue.

One Green commentator said: "None of this changes the fact that the RIGHT solution is waste reduction at source: don't build it into products, don't buy wasteful products, minimise your own waste, treat as much waste as possible at the household and neighbourhood level. That would turn big, inflexible waste plants into white elephants. But we're not there yet, and right now we have to have practical, workable, cost effective and inevitably somewhat imperfect policies for our imperfect world."

Other bits of interest that Paul mentioned during his talk included:

- incinerators are the most expensive form of electricity generation
- Zurich's community composting identified the social aspects of getting to know neigbours as one of the most positive benefits of the project
- must take account of the value of reusable items like old furniture: many will remember my failed attempts to avert the closure of furniture recycling in Stroud - see here.
- Paul supported going plastic bag free - see my thoughts here.
- don't forget to factor in money spent on an incinerator leaves the community while alternatives are spent within the community eg more recycling, composting etc
- we heard about various ways to increase recycling - in one place Trashman visited a home each week and if they had no recycling in their bin they got £1,000 - I did suggest at the meeting this might be something for Glos Media and Mr Mean in lycra??
- What was good in the talk was the linking back to consumption - however the area I felt Paul didn't really address was how do we encourage and support people to reduce consumption? Yes taxes on packaging etc can help but there is a lot more to it.....more of that I'm sure in future posts...
- lots more but I've run out of pff writing this!

Anyway the event finished with Paul and David Purshase (see photo) singing with the audience joining in with an anti-incinerator song!

Lastly let me finish for now with my recent letter last month to local press here and a link to further details of the process in Gloucestershire here. I strongly recommend getting Paul's powerpoint presentation when it becomes available - there is also due out on a Youtube one of Pauls talks in Plymouth.


mrs green @ myzerowaste said...

Hahaha! You cheeky monkey.

Still, I'll let you off because you've written such a brilliant article and you have some very cool photos of the evening. There is a good write up in the Citizen today as well.

Great to meet you at last; have a lovely weekend.


Anonymous said...

Here is how Citizen reported it: “Incineration is stupid, totally unsustainable and will wreck your budget for years to come.”

Those were the words of international waste expert Dr Paul Connett as he urged a hall packed with dozens of Gloucestershire residents to fight any plans for a giant waste incinerator in Gloucestershire.

The lecturer from St Lawrence University in New York addressed residents, politicians and activists at a meeting in King’s Stanley Village Hall.

Using examples of successful recycling schemes from across the world, he said technology was not the answer to Gloucestershire’s mounting waste problem.

Dr Connett, who recently returned from speaking at the United Nations, said: “In the 21st century, the issue is about resource management.

“We would need four planets if everyone consumed what the average American consumes, and we would need two planets if everyone consumed what the average European consumes.

“George Bush thought there was another planet, and I hope he’s there now.”

He spoke about recycling schemes in San Francisco and in areas of Italy, which were diverting similar amounts of waste from landfill, at a fraction of the cost of incineration and without the by-product of toxic ash.

He said: “Incineration produces a hazardous toxic ash, which you need to find landfill space for anyway.

“The thing is, we won this whole argument 20 years ago. Don’t politicians ever read anything?

“In Denmark, they send all their ash to Norway, and when I was down in Plymouth, where they’re trying to built an incinerator, I asked where they’re going to send their ash, and they said Gloucestershire at Wingmoor Farm (near Bishop’s Cleeve).

“The difference is, where an incinerator diverts 75 per cent from landfill, you’ve got this toxic ash left over, but when you recycle 72 per cent, you’ve still got the other 28 per cent to work with.” He said recycling and composting were two of the most important ways to cut down waste.

He said: “In some places in America, you have these coupons, which cost $1.50, and you have to put those on your rubbish bags. Then, the people who want to save money become more clever about what they recycle and really save up their waste until they really need to put it out.”

He added that the problem needed to be addressed with a change of lifestyle, a post-consumerism, which would see industry change its ways based on a more conscientious outlook from consumers.

He said: “We need to stop companies using excessive packaging, by banning it, taxing it or avoiding it.”

He said activists in Gloucestershire should pull out all the stops to campaign against any proposal which could see an incinerator built in the county.

Four companies have been shortlisted to run a new waste disposal facility in Gloucestershire.

They have been asked by Gloucestershire County Council to submit more detailed proposals by late spring.

Council chiefs have not ruled out the possibility of an incinerator to deal with the county’s waste, despite protests from campaigners.

All four companies have said they could use Javelin Park, near Haresfield, as part of their proposals.

Politicians at the meeting included MP David Drew, parliamentary candidates Dennis Andrewartha (Lib Dem) and Neil Carmichael (Con), Stroud Green Party councillors John Marjoram and Phillip Booth, and Gloucester city councillors Kate Haigh and Nick Durrant (Lab).

Anonymous said...

Lurgi is a large German company which specialises in the cracking and synthesis of organic chemicals, particularly fuels: for example, natural gas to diesel and chemical feedstocks.
The only area of waste that they have shown any interest in is the commercialisation of a process developed by Karsruhe Institute of Technology for producing biofuel from the pyrolysis of wood waste and straw.
There are several large multinationals producing incinerators, and several somewhat smaller companies doing gasification commercially. All of these are expanding strongly, I am not aware of any questions relating to commercial viability.
Regarding pyrolysis of more general waste, such as clinical and municipal waste, Energos has a pyrolysis process in development, but at a very low key I think because thay are concentrating on rolling out gasification. It may be because gasification is more profitable, I don't know. Compact Waste at Avonmouth, a company with a prototype pyrolysis plant, went insolvent due to a basic technical snag with their unique solution: the steel archimedes screws used to feed the waste were cool at one end and hot at the other, causing distortion and cracking which made the process unviable commercially without millions in basic redesign which they didn't have. Just because a particular novel process doesn't work is no reason to damn pyrolysis as a technology. It needs time. The potential advantage with pyrolysis is that it can reduce the waste to black carbon (excellent as a soil improver) rather than, as gasification does, releasing the carbon to atmosphere as CO2.

Anonymous said...

Great talk - i have seen his similar Coventry talk in several parts on Youtube:

Joker said...

Where would people be if I weren't around to share this information?

And I'm the sceptic...

Anonymous said...

But an open-minded sceptic? We need more of those - but at the end of the day in this case, the evidence against these large incinerators doesn't stack up.

Anonymous said...

Could you please let us know where the PowerPoint version of that King's Stanley talk is available. I forgot to take my [memory] pen. I am also keen to see the recording (DVD) of the talk in Plymouth.
There are also shorter talks on this link:


Philip Booth said...

Paul's presentation was due to be out in a week - assume it will be on his website. See also the Coventry link above that both Joker and anonymous have highlighted.

Chris Harmer said...

"Anonymous" has used my words on gasification and pyrolysis: not that I mind, but he then goes on to say that "the evidence against these large incinerators doesn't stack up". Oh yes it does. It stacks up economically as burning is a waste of the recyclable resources in the waste. They are just too big and inflexible, and will end up as either publically funded white elephants or beasts we are contracted to feed with recyclable materials.
70%+ recycling is possible, anaerobically digest the biologicals to give biogas and fertiliser, extract more recyclable materials mechanically using MBT, then gasify the MBT output but only if there are outlets to fully use the heat and power. The remainder, perhaps 2% of the incoming waste, can be made into concrete blocks or landfilled.
Energos take great trouble to ensure that dioxins do not reform in the chimney, contrary to what Connett said. The actual pollutant levels versus what EU legislation allows can be found at http://www.energ.co.uk/EfW_environmental_performance

Chris Harmer. (not anonymous!)

Chris Harmer said...

Oh yes, and I too, would like the Powerpoints from Connett's lecture.
I can't find then online.

Chris Harmer.

Philip Booth said...

Links to Connett's presentation are from my blog entry today, 22nd Feb 2010.